May, 2015 – As we took our RV north through Virginia, hopping on and off the Blue Ridge Parkway, we followed the blooming of the rhododendrons as they blossomed first in the south and then in the north. In fact, we followed the rhododendron bloom all the way from the Smokies to northern Maine over the course of five weeks! We also decided to contine the travel theme we had begun in the southern part of the parkway in North Carolina: Waterfalls.
Seeing waterfall pics is very inspiring, but actually getting to them on a hiking trail usually involves a lot of vertical hiking, either climbing up to the top of a waterfall or scrambling down to the bottom of one. We got some great stair-stepping workouts on our quest for beautiful waterfalls in the Virginia portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway!
APPLE ORCHARD FALLS
The first waterfall we went to was Apple Orchard Falls. This hiking trail crosses the Appalachian Trail, and we were astonished as we approached the intersection with the Appalachian Trail to meet a fellow who was spending his summer hiking from Georgia to Maine!
This hiker, Brian, was traveling light for a 4 month walk in the woods, but he said he was doing great. Unlike most of his fellow hikers, he hadn’t had to replace his hiking shoes yet, and he’d knocked out 770 miles of the trek with another 1,400 or so to go before he reached Mt. Katahdin in Maine.
We bounded down the trail to the bottom of Apple Orchard Falls after that encounter, so excited to have met an Appalachian Trail through-hiker in the middle of his journey. At the bottom we found a pretty waterfall cascading over the rocks.
Better yet, there were rhododendrons blooming all around the lower part of the waterfall and even more along the stream that fell loosely over the rocks into the woods. We were in seventh heaven running around taking pics. In no time we were in our own worlds, totally separated. It was long after we were out of sight of each other that we realized we’d left our trusty two-way radios in the truck. I had no idea where Mark went, but I followed the rhododendrons!
Rhododendrons are a magnificent flower, and I crouched and crawled and snuck under branches along the river banks to try to find places to get pics of them with flowing water. I couldn’t believe they grew wild in such abundance. Everywhere I looked, they were in all stages of bloom:
When I’d had my fill of rhododendrons and waterfalls, I hiked back to where I’d last seen Mark at the bottom of the falls. I searched around there for a long time wondering where he’d disappeared to along the creek. I yelled his name, bunches of times, but there was no answer. Oh no!
The return hike to the truck was a one and a half miles or so straight uphill. This trail was STEEP, and I was torn. Should I stay at the bottom? Should I go back to the top?
I finally decided to take the chance that he had gone back to the top. It was late, after all, and if he couldn’t find me I figured he’d return to the truck up top. I hiked nervously straight uphill, sweat pouring down my back.
What if he wasn’t at the top? I wondered. Would it make sense to go back down to the bottom to look for him? And what if I couldn’t find him down at the bottom? Should I then hike back up again?
At exactly what point would I try to get help? And how many miles away would help be? And would those helpful people then hike to the bottom to look for him this late in the day or wait til tomorrow? What if he’d gotten injured and couldn’t move? My imagination ran wild.
I continued yelling for him periodically, morosely envisioning the headlines, “Dead hiker found at waterfall, two-way radios found in truck.” How foolish of us!
As I hiked the last 100 yards straight uphill I craned my neck looking for the truck. When I finally caught a glimpse of it just beyond the last tree, I saw the door was open and Mark’s smiling face poked out from behind it and we both ran and gave each other a huge hug. What a relief!
The next hike proved much more straight forward. Fallingwater Cascades is just five miles away from Apple Orchard Falls, and is a much shorter and easier hike.
The rhododendrons were blooming here too, but I stayed on the trail this time. The waterfalls were lovely.
Our final waterfall hike along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia was Crabtree Falls. When we saw the name of this waterfall we did a doubletake because we had already hiked a Crabtree Falls in the North Carolina part of the Blue Ridge Parkway a week or so ago.
So we were surprised when the gal at the visitors center who told us about Crabtree Falls in Virginia had never heard of the one in North Carolina. However, the Virginia falls is the tallest waterfall in the east, a claim to fame the North Carolina Crabtree Falls doesn’t have.
We found out that when you hike the tallest waterfall in the east, you are in for a LOT of stair climbing. Crabtree Falls consists of three waterfalls sections that are each unique, and between each section there are staircases and some steep trails.
Each staircase brought us to more waterfalls.
And then we climbed more stairs!! Some stairs were built into the trail. Others were just plain old staircases!
After the stairs we saw another bit of the waterfall. Different shape. Same falls!
As we climbed higher, we got more and more tired. And obviously the rangers did too, because up near the top they quit building stairs and just let the tree roots be the stair cases!
At the very top of the waterfall, the stream flowed between the rhododendron bushes and then fell right out in front of them. Just beautiful. And this time, since we had started the hike at the bottom and had climbed to the top, we gleefully ended our hike by descending down the stairs instead of trudging up!!
If you take your RV along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the parkway itself is fine for driving except for two low bridges at the far south end in North Carolina.
No matter where you drive in this area, be prepared for steep hills. We were very grateful driving in these hills to have recently outfitted our truck with a diesel engine tuner to improve its towing power and to have outfitted our trailer with electric over hydraulic disc brakes.
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More info for these waterfall hikes:
- Apple Orchard Falls
- Fallingwater Cascades
- Crabtree Falls
- Location of Apple Orchard Falls and Fallingwater Cascades (Wilkerson Gap) – Googe Maps
- Location of Crabtree Falls – Google Maps
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- Shenandoah National Park, Virginia – Climbs & Falls! 06/20/15
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